all ready / already / all right / alright

All ready and all right (two words) mean that everything is ready or everything is correct / OK: – The students are all ready for the test. – Your answers are all right. or All your answers are right. Already means that something happened earlier than expected: – He’s only 14 and he’s already graduated…

quiet / silent

The basic difference is that quiet can mean little or no noise, but silent means ZERO noise. If you describe somebody as quiet, it means that person doesn’t talk very much. People can also talk quietly (with a very low volume) but it’s impossible to talk silently!

replace / substitute

Both of these words mean to put something in place of another, but there are a few differences in usage. Let’s look at two cases: with people and with objects. Replacements tend to be long-term or permanent. They often involve something of the same type: – If a part in your car breaks, you need…

as far as / as long as / as soon as

Use as long as for: Time – when talking about a long period: – “I’ll stay with you as long as you want.” A condition that is a requirement: – “You can go to the party as long as you’re back by 11 PM.” Use as soon as for: Time – when one thing happens…

its / it’s

It’s is an abbreviation for it is, and its is a possessive: – It’s raining. – The dog ate its food. or the food belongs to the dog. There is no pronunciation difference, but confusing. it’s and its is a very common mistake in written English!

before / in front of / opposite / across from

The words opposite and across from mean that something is located at the other side of something. – The bank is opposite the post office. or The bank is across from the post office. – Henry sat opposite me at the table. or Henry sat across from me at the table. The expression in front…

electric / electrical / electronic

This is a doubt that even native English speakers have! Electric and electrical are essentially the same – they refer to any device that uses electricity. Flashlights are electric; we also have electric lights and electric heaters, and nowadays even electric cars. Something that is electric just uses electricity for energy. Something that is electronic…

made of / made from

Use made of to talk about the material of an object – wood, plastic, glass, crystal, etc. which has not gone through very much processing. You can still see the original material: – This table is made of wood. – The window is made of glass. – This shirt is made of cotton. Use made…

await / wait / hope / expect

To wait means to pass the time until something happens: – It’s 6:45. I’m waiting for the 7:00 bus. – We waited in line for three hours to get tickets to the concert. – You need to wait for the computer to finish updating. Await is simply a slightly more formal way to say wait…

capital / capitol

The word capital, in politics/geography, refers to the town or city that is the official center of a country’s government: Washington D.C. is the capital of the U.S. The word capitol is very specific – it refers to a building or complex of buildings where the government meets to make laws. t The capitol building…

defect / fault / flaw

A flaw is a problem or err or (small or large) that makes something less effective or valuable. The word flaw can be used for problems in objects, ideas, or people’s character: Objects: This diamond is less expensive because it contains several flaws. Ideas: There’s a major flaw in your plan – it will never…

automobile / car / vehicle

The word automobile is just another name for a car. In casual everyday English, we usually use the word car. The word vehicle describes the more general category – it means a device for transporting people or things. Cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, military tanks, sleds, horse-drawn wagons, even bicycles can all be considered vehicles. All…

pass away / pass out

You definitely don’t want to get these two phrasal verbs confused! Pass away is an indirect way to say someone died: My grandfather passed away yesterday. The funeral is this weekend. Rachel passed away after a long battle with cancer. Pass out has two meanings: 1. To lose consciousness He was so exhausted and dehydrated…

persons / peoples

In everyday English, the plural form of person is people: One person came to the English class. Two people came to the English class. The word peoples means two or more people groups: There are various indigenous peoples living in the Amazon. Many different languages are spoken among the peoples of Africa. The word persons…

nausea / nauseous / queasy

Technically, the words nauseous and nauseating describe something that makes you feel sick, and the words nauseated and queasy describe the way you feel – like your stomach is uncomfortable and you might vomit: A nauseous smell of rotten fruit came from the garbage bags. That scene in the movie is nauseating; I wish they…

would

Forms Would is a ‘modal auxiliary verb’ (see 202). There is no -s in the third person singular; questions and negatives are made without do; after would, we use the infinitive without to. Meaning We use would as a past form of will, or as a less definite, ‘softer’ form of will. Compare: I’ll be…

cure / treat / heal / recover

The verb treat is used for giving medical aid; making efforts to help a sick or injured person get better: The doctor treated the girl with antibiotics. Heal is typically used for injuries and wounds (not diseases), when the injury gets better naturally by the body’s own processes: It was just a minor cut, it…

employees / staff

Both of these words refer to people who work at a company – but staff is always singular and uncountable – it describes the entire group of workers as one thing. Employees is plural and countable – it describes the collection of individual workers. The entire staff was happy about the extra day off. All…

hope / wish

The word wish is usually used for hypothetical (imagined) situations, when you want something in the present or past to be different. When you’re wishing a present situation was different, use wish + simple past: I live near the beach, but I wish I lived near the mountains. I wish my mother knew how to…

lay / lie

This is the technical difference between lay and lie: You lay an object onto a surface. Could you lay those mats on the floor, please? She laid the books on the table. The workers are laying the carpet in the new building. Again, you lay an object onto a surface. But a person/thing lies (itself)…

relation / relationship

Relationship can describe a connection between two people (this connection may be romantic or not): I’ve been dating my boyfriend for three years. We have a great relationship. He has a terrible relationship with his father. My sister and I have a good relationship. Both relationship and relation can describe connections between two things or…

worse / worst

Worse is the comparative (comparing two things). Worst is the superlative (comparing 3+ things, or comparing one thing with everything). I thought the second movie was worse than the first one. (comparing two movies) That’s the worst movie I’ve ever seen. (always use “the” before “worst”) (comparing one movie with ALL the others) In fast…

afraid / scared / frightened

When using these words to describe someone’s emotional state – after the verb “to be” and before “of” – you can use afraid or scared with no change in meaning. She’s afraid of spiders. = She’s scared of spiders. “Frightened of” can also be used, but it’s not as common. However, when used in the…

carpet / mat / rug

These three words all refer to floor coverings – but they are of different sizes. A carpet usually covers the entire floor, from wall to wall: A rug covers a medium-sized area: A mat covers a very small area – like a doormat or a yoga mat:

dilemma / quandary

Both of these words are used for complicated and problematic situations, but there is a small difference between them. A quandary is when you don’t know what to do; you are in a state of uncertainty. A dilemma is a situation where you have to choose between options that all seem bad in some way….

music / song

Use music when talking about music in general, or a type/category of music: My neighbors are playing loud music; it’s really annoying! I’m not a fan of country music. The performers are dancing to classical music. Use song when talking about one specific piece of music: I love the song “Imagine” by John Lennon. I…

shade / shadow

Shade is the general dark area that is protected from the sun: It’s so hot out – let’s sit in the shade. We brought an umbrella to the beach so that we could have some shade. A shadow is the “shape” of an object or person that blocks the light. You can only have “shade”…

collect / gather

The word gather simply means to bring together or come together: I gathered all my books and put them into my backpack. A crowd gathered around the TV to watch the World Cup game. If something is getting faster or stronger, you can say it gathers momentum or gathers strength: The charity campaign gathered momentum…

dress / dressed / wear

A dress (n.) is a type of clothing that women wear: The words dressed (adj.) and get dressed (v.) can be used with both men AND women. “Get dressed” means to put on your clothes (the opposite is “get undressed”): You get dressed in the morning, or after taking a shower, and you get undressed…

guarantee / warranty

The word guarantee just refers to a promise that certain conditions will be fulfilled. We can use it with products, or with things that are not products: All our products come with a 30-day money-back guarantee. I guarantee you will enjoy the experience. We guarantee the accuracy of the information in our reports. A warranty…